Quick Reads - Chi Lin Nunnery and Gardens, Hong Kong

Not a single nail!

Once upon a time, when Hong Kong was without protests and the Covid -19, I happened to stumble upon a gem. Right in the middle of the city, surrounded by the sky hugging buildings, I found the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Gardens - an oasis of aesthetics and serenity. The Chi Lin Nunnery was built in 1938.  Much later it was rebuilt in 1988 according to the architectural principles of the Tang Dyansty. 
The Waterfall around the restaurant

It was another world and another age that I had entered into and the restaurant vanished from my consciousness. Spread over 33,000 square metres, the Chi Lin Nunnery is believed to be the largest hand made wooden structure in the world. What is unique about it is that, there is not a single nail used in this building! The entire structure is held together by a special interlocking system cut into each piece of wood. Across a beautiful bridge near the nunnery is the Nan Lian garden with exquisite landscaping, small hills, water bodies, rocks and trees. The entire experience of both the garden and the nunnery is quite simply overwhelming. Especially, you have gone there primarily, for the vegetarian restaurant run by the nuns, like I had. The restaurant itself was artistic and beautiful, enveloped in greenery with a waterfall along one wall. Despite the restaurant being full, all we heard was the gentle sound of this water.

Serene and Surreal 

I had to go back. It was simply too beautiful. This time I visited Chi Lin in the night. It was like a fairy tale. Little lights ensconced in the trees threw pools of light creating a surreal yet magical ambience and yes, the food is delicious!

Glimpses - The Perfect Road Trip to the Scottish Highlands

We start at Edinburgh with the Scotts Monument, a tribute to one of Edinburgh's most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott - writer, poet,  playwright and  historical novelist. A compelling presence in the centre of the Town, this 200 feet Gothic Structure has an interesting story behind it. In 1832, after Sir Walter Scotts's death, a competition was held to select the best design, George Miekle Kemp, a daftsman and self taught architect was sure he would be disqualified since he was not a professional architect. He sent in his design under the pseudonym John Morvo and his design won the competition. The Scotts Monument was inaugurated on the 15th of August 1846, but Kemp did not live to see it. He had fallen to his death in the Union Canal, on the foggy evening of the 6th of March, while returning home from the site! A sobering thought, as the eyes scale up the intricately carved, eerie monument. 
Out of Edinburgh and onward to the Highlands
Through The Cairngorms National Park - all quiet and so soothing

Sudden bursts of Blue, every now and then, merging seamlessly with the myriad shades of Green
The Deep and Mysterious Loch Ness. It contains more fresh water than all the lakes of England and Wales put together!
Passing the ruins of The Urquhart Catle on the banks of the Loch Ness, in search of Nessie, the Monster of Loch Ness. We did not find her but we found the Witches Rock! Scotland is a treasure trove of Myth and Legend.
From Loch Ness to the Isle of Skye on a road that dips and rises to startling blue lakes and sharp jagged mountains
Peace and Beauty unlimited - towards Carbost to visit the Talisker Distillery managed by Diageo and famous for its Premium Single Malt
Obviously we did not catch the Talisker Distillery Tour. The drive upto the Distillery was just so beautiful that we lost track of time! So, we loaded the car on to a large liner to reach the Isle of Raasay and its distillery.
Chugging away to the Isle of Raasay surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands
The picture post card scene at the Isle of Raasay complete with the shaggy Highland Cows
And back to Terra Firma. At Inverness, the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands, with the River Ness flowing gently


Quick Reads - The City Palace, Jaipur

The City palace, Jaipur often gets overlooked by tourists because it is the Amber Fort that is publicized as the show stopper and attracts hordes of tourists . Since it is the residence of the current members of the  Royal Family of Jaipur, the reticence surrounding it may be by design, but the City Palace is as interesting as the Amber Fort. It is right away a more immersive experience because it does not attract many visitors. Secondly, the exhibits are far more interesting. If Amber Fort itself is a slice of History, the City Palace is a glimpse into the lives of those who made the history. 
The Gangajali
Take the larger-than-life Gangajalis for example. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, they are the largest silver objects in the world. Made from 14,0000 silver coins without soldering, the jars weigh 345 kgs, stand 5 feet and 3 inches tall and can hold 4091 litres or 900 gallons of water.  Maharaja Sawai Madhav Sing II is said to have taken two such jars filled with Gangajal (water of The Ganga), when he travelled to England in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward. 

Other areas to explore are the Diwan E Aam also called Sabha Niwas and the Diwan E Khas which has an grand sounding name like Sarvato Bhadra. Then there is the Chandra Mahal atop which flies the one and a quarter Flag of the Jaipur Dynasty, signifying the name Sawai. How the dyansty got the title Sawai is another interesting story. Tasetful displays of paintings, an interesting textile museum that must have been a treasure trove to many bespoke Indian designers, eye-catching configurations of weapons and arms, City Palace offers enough for a good two hours. 
Take a guide or help yourself to the audio guide and come back for the sight and sound show, if you are a true history buff. 
There is a detailed tour of the  Inner Chambers of the Palace for those who have deep pockets. Those with deeper pockets can stay in the Palace, thanks to the youngest generation of the Royal Family, having put a few rooms on Air Bnb.
The One And A Quarter Flag of The Sawai Dynasty
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